Two years since their last studio album and 72 live albums later, Pearl Jam is back with its seventh studio album, Riot Act. Going on 40 now, these dogs are not very interested in new tricks and so much the better for all concerned. Riot Act plays to all of Pearl Jam’s strengths, in particular Ed Vedder’s majestic voice, which goes from leonine rumble on the lead single “I Am Mine” to vulpine howl on “Save You.” Matt Cameron, the longest standing drummer Pearl Jam has ever had (three studio albums and counting), makes his presence strongly felt, introducing the album with a burly beat and scoring music-writing credit for three of the 15 tracks.
Unsurprisingly, given Pearl Jam’s steadfastly political stance and Vedder’s recent Mohawk, the album includes one or two jabs at the prevailing political wind. “He’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer / Swinging for the fence. Got lucky with a strike / Drilling for fear. Makes the job simple / Born on third. Thinks he got a triple,” Vedder sardonically intones on “Bushleager.” But the rest of the album is some of the most personal, intimate material that Pearl Jam has ever produced, most strikingly the folk ballad “Thumbing My Way.” “Love Boat Captain” features some lush Hammond organ work, while Vedder declares, “I know it’s already been sung, but it can’t be said enough / All you need is love.” Vedder also shows off the Eastern influences he first displayed on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack on “Arc,” the song sounding like a beautifully ecumenical call to prayer.
Some might have expected a more polemical outing from Pearl Jam given the current political climate. The intention of Riot Act is more understated. Vedder, who has created so many empathetic alter-egos in songs like “Daughter” and “Jeremy” is finally singing as himself. Less dramatic, the album is also more unified than others and finds Vedder putting his shaky faith in love, realising that there may not be much alternative, “But I try / To run on / Towards / All or none….”
—A. R. Iliff
Dave Matthews Band
Live From Fulsom Field
The newest Dave Matthews Band release is a two-disc live recording from Aug. 11 2001 at University of Colorado, Boulder’s Folsom Field. This is the fourth release in a series of live recordings which started as a response to an increase in bootleg sales. The series began in 1997 with Live at Red Rocks, followed by Listener Supported in 1999 and Live In Chicago 12.19.98 in 2001. These recordings have included such guests as Tim Reynolds, Butch Taylor, Maceo Parker, Mitch Rutman, Victor Wooten and a trio of African female vocalists, who Dave Matthews affectionately refers to as the “Lovely Ladies.”
On this particular recording the band is joined by Butch Taylor and the “Lovely Ladies,” all of whom have been regularly on tour with the band since 1999. Given the extensive series of live recordings, this concert may seem to many to be nothing new. In fact, all of the songs have previously appeared on at least one official release. However, this particular concert does offer something that the others do not: live versions of songs from the recent studio releases Everyday and Busted Stuff. Still, favorites from each of the band’s previous ten releases appear as well. As far as the performance, it was standard for the band, which puts it somewhere between great and amazing.
Another thing that separates this album from all previous releases, with the exception of Listener Supported, is the availability of a DVD version of the show. The DVD is fantastic, especially if you have never seen the band live. It becomes even more apparent through the DVD how much the members of the band pour every ounce of energy into their shows. Notably exceptional points of the show are: the solo section of “Bartender,” the “#34” teases in “Everyday,” the syncopated introduction to “Warehouse” and the ending of first encore, “Two Step.”
All in all, the album is good, but the DVD is great.
—D. J. Zaccagnino